Dining With Denise Neil

True fans of Asian food will be at Saturday’s annual Asian Festival

Passage to India is one of several local restaurants that sets up at the annual Asian Festival, a celebration of Asian food and culture.
Passage to India is one of several local restaurants that sets up at the annual Asian Festival, a celebration of Asian food and culture. Courtesy photo

A casual fan of Asian food in Wichita knows that the city is home to lots of delicious Vietnamese pho, Chinese bubble tea and Korean kimchi.

But a rabid fan of Asian food in Wichita knows that the best way to find all that food – and more – in one place is to visit the Wichita Asian Association’s Asian Festival once a year.

Wichita’s most popular cultural celebration draws about 7,000 people to Century II, many of whom are lured by the more than 40 booths offering cuisine native to Asian countries like China, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, India and more.

The 2016 Asian Festival, scheduled for 5:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, will fill Century II’s Convention and Exhibition halls not only with exotic aromas and flavors but also with cultural performances and art vendors.

“People like that there’s a variety, but the big thing that people really like is that you’re getting food that you don’t get throughout the year,” said Kathy Ewing, chair of the Wichita Asian Association. “Yes, we have some businesses who are there every year, but we also have a lot of student groups and churches and mom-and-pop types of vendors.”

Several well-known restaurants will be serving their food from rows of tables, including SpringRo, Passage to India, Boba Zone, Malaysia Cafe, BottleOpener and Beard Papa’s. Though its pastries are French, La Galette also is there every year serving desserts.

The booths also are staffed by some of the best home cooks in Wichita’s various Asian communities. The Filipinos of Greater Wichita booth, for example, will serve lumpia, barbecue on a stick, pork adobo and an authentic noodle dish called pancit. Their head cooks are Eric Tejano, a longtime cook in the Navy whose specialty is Filipino food, and Rose Axman, the former owner of the once popular Philippine Grille, which operated at 9125 W. Central from 2005 to 2007.

Mhaeh Buan, a member of the Filipinos of Greater Wichita who also is on the board of the Wichita Asian Association, says many Filipino people in town reserve their orders in advance to make sure they get food before it runs out. Tejano and Axman are renowned cooks in the community.

“You will never go wrong with their food,” Buan said.

Visitors can buy food items at each booth, and the average person spends $10 or less, organizers say.

In between eating, people can find plenty of other things to do at the festival. Among them:

Stage performances: Throughout the evening, groups will put on Asian cultural performances, including a Chinese dragon dance, a Vietnamese fan dance and a Chinese ribbon dance. The headlining performer will be Three Trails Taiko, a group that specializes in Japanese percussive music. Taiko is Japanese for “drum,” and this group comes from Kansas City.

Miss Asia pageant: The festival also always includes a scholarship pageant whose competitors are young Wichita women representing 11 Asian countries. Among the judges this year are Olympics bronze medalist boxer Nico Hernandez and Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell.

Vendors: Attendees can shop from more than a dozen booths selling jewelry, stationery, henna art and more.

Denise Neil: 316-268-6327, @deniseneil

36TH ANNUAL WICHITA ASIAN FESTIVAL

What: A festival of Asian culture and food put on by the Wichita Asian Association

When: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday

Where: Century II Convention and Exhibition halls, 225 W. Douglas

How much: Admission is free. Donations will be accepted. Food and crafts are available for purchase.

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